ATV review: Honda Pioneer 500
The Honda Pioneer 500 is the newest member of the Honda Pioneer side-by-side family. Farm Trader put it through its paces, testing everything from brakes, transmission, stability and a host of the other features.
Honda has been very smart with the new Pioneer 500, utilising the tested and proven fuel-injected 475cc single cylinder four-stroke engine currently fitted to their TRX500 quad bikes.
The longitudinally rubber mounted engine has carried over from the 500 quad models. Drive is via shaft to front and rear wheels, there are no belts to wear or break on this machine. The oil dipstick/filler is accessible from under the seat.
The bulk of the engine weight is mounted low in the strong steel ladder frame chassis, providing a low centre of gravity. The liquid cooled engine has the radiator mounted in front of the driving position, high enough with adequate shielding to stop it filling up with dust and debris.
Low down torque of the Honda petrol unit is good, also providing plenty of get up and go acceleration when you need it. The Pioneer is pretty comfortable at 50km/hr which isn't maxed out.
Unlike 90 percent of competitors' side-by-side machines, Honda has kept the same transmission as the quad, giving five forward gears and one reverse gear. First gear is ultra-low for operating in tight confines and tricky situations. On the small steep hills, in first gear it was doing only 3km/hr going down, without braking.
The beauty of this transmission is the engine braking offered by the manual gear box. There is no need to keep the accelerator on to keep the drive engaged, while braking at the same time, which to me feels unnatural, and for a novice operator could be quite scary, and unsafe.
Being based on the Honda quad motor, and mounted behind the driver a manual foot change gear lever was never going to work out. The Honda guys have gone better than this and added electric paddle shifters to the steering column, similar to Formula 1 cars, much more fun!
With a super low first gear you can't get caught out in the wrong range. Reverse is selected from neutral by pulling a hand lever built into the dash and pulling back on the paddle on the left to change down gears, a similar operation to reverse selection on a Honda quad.
The Pioneer 500 has plenty of room for two adults, and a towed load rating of 453kg. Independent suspension front and rear provides 150mm of travel to take care of the bumps, the rear shocks are adjustable to cope with different load situations.
Stabiliser bars on the rear suspension prevents excessive body roll, with the suspension being independent it is easier to keep all four wheels on the ground, to maintain traction most of the time.
A single brake pedal operates the brakes like a car, twin hydraulic discs on the front wheels and the single hydraulic disc mounted on the drive shaft for the rear wheels provide the stopping power. The rear disc is mounted in the centre of the machine as much out of the way as possible of mud and stones thrown up by the tyres.
Power steering is a feature being added to machines of this class by other manufacturers. Honda has steered away from this at this stage, opting for a well weighted mechanical system, keeping the initial purchase price lower.
American designed, the Pioneer is fun and functional, with high front guards and an exo-skeleton frame incorporating the roll cage frame. The bog hole we discovered tested the Pioneer's four drive system and the effectiveness of the mud guards.
The radiator is mounted high out of the way, staying clean and allowing it to keep working even in tough conditions. The electric thermostat controlled fan runs as needed, to increase air flow in low speed heavy going situations. Although the Pioneer has been designed as a fun work machine, Honda has kept the instruments and controls pretty basic and easy to operate.
The Pioneer 500 ticks a lot of boxes in terms of a safe form of transport to get to the back of the farm, shift the stock fix a fence and get home safely. Not losing much in terms of manoeuvrability compared to a quad bike, the big advantage is in stability and the full roll cage with seat belts.
Honda put half doors on its side-by-sides, preventing operators from putting legs out in sticky situations. The other smart idea is incorporating safety nets into the door opening mechanism, making it only a two-step operation to get out of the machine, including unbuckling your seat belt.
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